Foster the People
Sacred Hearts Club
These days, it's hard to find an entertainer anywhere who's not dishing some kind of political opinion. So Mark Foster—frontman for Foster the People—decided to head in exactly the opposite thematic direction on his group's third album, Sacred Hearts Club.
Foster told the U.K.'s Independent, "After [the 2016 presidential election], I started to realize that I really wanted to unite people. That political race was so polarizing, these two extreme factions seemed more divided and more volatile against each other than ever. The last thing I wanted to do was add gasoline to that fire." Elsewhere in the interview, he added "It became clear that as artists we wanted to make something that was joyful and unifying, and remind people that life is still beautiful. … I felt like people needed a hug."
Sacred Hearts Club serves as yet another showcase for Foster the People's eclectic sound: an electropop mélange that pays homage to '60s-ish psychedelia and Beach Boys-inspired melodies and harmonies. At times, Foster's omnipresent falsetto brings to mind Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine as well.
There are moments of joy, unity and beauty here, as Foster said. And—as is generally the case with this interesting band—more than a few lyrically cryptic ones, too.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Intriguing album opener "Pay the Man" has a number of positive lyrics. The first verse deals with life's stresses and telling yourself hard truths ("I've been running from the truth/ … All the things I've seen but I've chosen to ignore"), but then shifts into a more encouraging stance. Though change is inevitable ("Seasons change/You know it'll never be the same"), there's still hope ("We'll see the sun again/Before it fades") and love ("I just wanna say that I love you"). Foster admits his guilt ("I've got blood on my hands/Guess I'm going deaf with the cry of this sin"), and prays to God in a moment of weakness ("Call out to God, praise to the Most High/Call out for help, 'cause I'm playing with fire"). Near the end, the song also metaphorically notes our tendency to flee from light when it exposes our shortcomings: "We all run when the light comes on."
"Doing It for the Money" perhaps references unhealthy dependence upon technology: "Well it's a silicon rush/And I'm addicted." Foster also proclaims, "I am shouting to the world/Let them know that we won't/Be afraid to step into the fight." Later he adds, "I won't bend under the pressure when my back's on the ropes." The song also rejects finding meaning in money: "We're not doing it for the money."
"Sit Next to Me" may allude to a battle with alcohol addiction: "And now it's over, we're sober/ … And the night ain't getting younger/Last call's around the corner/Feeling kind of tempted/And I'm pouring out the truth." "I Love My Friends" repeatedly expresses that titular sentiment, despite the fact that Foster also admits, "We're a disaster," and implies that he and his friends really don't know what to do with boredom ("Looking for something 'cause there's nothing to do").
"Static Space Lover" (which features actress Jena Malone as a guest singer) critiques a relationship in which two people don't know how to move forward. (And despite the use of the word "lover" here, there aren't any sexual references at all in the song.) We also hear the phrase "praise the Lord" in a way that sarcastically suggests how this couple is covering up their struggles with superficial niceties and spiritual clichés.
"Lotus Eater" (a pejorative allusion gleaned from Homer's Odyssey referencing those whose senses are dulled by indulging too much in pleasure) sharply critiques the vacuity of a contemporary party: "Smile with a sparkling drink/And stumbling in your lipstick mess/Your Hollywood philosophies/Yeah, it's a tragedy." Later, the song perhaps connects the dots between fear of commitment ("Wondering why/We can't commit to love") and fear of missing out on something better ("The things that we got/We always want more of"). Likewise, "Loyal Like Syd & Nancy" (an ironic reference to Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, who was arrested for murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen) wonders, "Where's the love?/And why are we so far away from love?" We also hear, "I've been praying for an answer/To keep me from falling through." And a reference to Satan seems to cast him in the role of a well-heeled deceiver ("Satan lies in satin sheets").
"Harden the Paint" talks of surrendering the need to control another person in a romantic relationship ("We're living the truth, we're chasing the dream/Just giving up both, yeah, giving up control").
Album closer "III" meditates on big themes: life, death, beauty and meaning. "Sail on in/Beautiful is your life," Foster sings. "Sail on in/I want to live in your love forever." Later, there's (admittedly vague) talk of growing old and spending eternity together: "And people change, we fade from youth/And evolve into eternal life." The song also addresses our desire for purpose amid our inescapable human frailty: "I know we're not invincible/So I want to live/Live for something more." It's a yearning, the song says, that's inherent in the human condition: "Saints will sing, and hearts are beating/Saying we all want more, we all want more."
On "Pay the Man," it's unclear exactly what the band means by the line, "Well I need a little something to pull my head off."
Lines on "Doing It for the Money" seem to endorse reckless behavior in the name of living for the moment: "Just close our eyes/We're gonna run this light/We live our lives/ … We're gonna get, gonna get/Get what we can." That track also asks the odd question, "Is it wrong to rock the booze?" without ever answering it.
The friends in "I Love My Friends" often don't make great choices. They lack discipline ("All of my friends, they blow all of the paycheck/They got no money, because they're dumb and reckless"), and they don't seem very loyal either ("And all of my friends, they always end up leaving/For something better when it's time to cruise." We also hear these unclear lines about the need for perpetual excitement ("We love being caught up in the action/Eating fire and smoke").
"Harden the Paint" includes one lyric that could be heard as very mildly suggestive: "Let's drift away in fits of pleasure/You're a beautiful design."
Mark Foster says he wanted to give fans a hug with this album. And I think Sacred Hearts Club mostly accomplishes that goal.
We all long for meaning, connection, purpose and beauty. And sometimes in the pursuit of those hardwired desires, we can go hedonistically overboard or become existentially discouraged. Into that cultural context, Sacred Hearts Club delivers a grace note of sorts, suggesting that the solution for our brokenness amid deep yearnings is to keep trying, keep striving, keep loving—together.
There are a couple of mild bumps along that road here, lyrically speaking. But for the most part, Foster the People has once again delivered an album that's as positive as it is provocative (in the best sense of that word), reminding us how much we need love in these divisive times.